The Tank Museum explores a recent donation of rare military board games that provide an insight into what gamers were able to play fifty years ago and how gameplay offered different ways to think about war.
Before the advent of computer game wargaming, players who wanted their wargaming fix had limited options. Games either featured metal-painted figures, wargames featuring counters, or game play with cardboard warriors.
From the 1950s US companies like Avalon Hill started producing boardgames, which allowed gamers to play games without the need for large metal armies to be amassed and painted. Rules could be learned in minutes, games could be set up quickly and finished in an evening, with the whole game packed away back in its box. It was a revolution in quick, accessible war gaming.
Avalon Hill’s 1965 Blitzkrieg was a groundbreaking game that was an upgrade on the original 1950s tactic game and stylised on the early German offensive campaigns of WW2 in Poland, France, and the Soviet Union. The game contains almost 400 infantry, artillery, armour, airborne, and amphibious units, representing brigades, squadrons, and air wings. Game players would use cardboard counters and topographical hex-based map boards to pit two sides, blue and red against each other in escalating scenarios.
Panzer Leader is a 1974 counter-based platoon level wargame based on the classic 1970 Avalon Hill game Panzerblitz, featuring the fighting on the Western Front in 1944-45. Players could pick either German or US forces. The rules were improved in Panzer Leader, allowing units to be spotted once they fired from ambush positions, so called panzerbush tactics.
The four geomorphic terrain boards allowed for 20 different scenarios to be played, including D-Day beach landings, Omaha and Gold, and Op Goodwood. The hex based boards also featured a dot in the centre of the hex, allowing line of sight to be ascertained, usually with a ruler or piece of string, and featured realistic contours and elevation changes, which were an upgrade on the boards used in Blitzkrieg.
THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN
The Russian Campaign, also released in 1974, is a historical simulation of war on the Eastern Front, allowing players to fight as the Axis or Soviet Union in various scenarios, from June 1941 to May 1945. In contrast to the other two games, The Russian Campaign, features a historical based map board featuring the terrain from Poland, Hungary, and Romania in the West to Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad in the East.
Counter scale is large with Axis Corps and Soviet Armies, and the rules include double-impulse moves to simulate Blitzkrieg tactics for armoured units, allowing them to perform armoured breakthroughs and encirclements. Logistics were also an important feature of this game, with railway movement and supply status for units being included. The game allowed players to gain a strategic and operational understanding of the warfare conducted on the Eastern Front.
Modern wargaming continues to bring history to life by recreating exercises to develop military strategies and tactics that are played online.